Practicing gratitude on a daily basis may be one of the most powerful tools in combating bad habits, including pornography. Many of us already engage in some small form of gratitude each day. It could be thanking someone for holding a door open for us, or telling our children how thankful we are that they cleaned their room like they were asked, or daily prayer. These little moments of thankfulness are a nice place to start, but what we really want to do is train our brains to use gratitude to make us happier and better equipped to handle the temptations of pornography.
Psychology Professor Robert Eamons Ph.D. of the University of California at Davis says, “The practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life.” Years of study and research on how gratitude affects us has shown both physical benefits, including lower blood pressure, improved immune function, and more restful sleep, as well as behavioral benefits.
Gratitude and Behavior
According to Dr. Eamons, gratitude shapes our behavior by allowing ”…individuals to celebrate the present and be an active participant in their own lives.” He also talks about how gratitude can block toxic emotions, such as depression and loneliness.
Often people struggle with pornography when they’re either alone or feeling like there is something missing, which they assume the empty rush of explicit images can fill. Rather than falling back on easy, yet destructive habits to cover up feelings of loneliness, a daily practice of gratitude allows us to value and appreciate friends, self, situations and circumstances.
Gratitude focuses our thoughts on what we already have, rather than something that is absent and needed.
Retraining your Brain
Think of your brain as a map, with roads connecting all your thoughts together.
The largest locations on your map with the widest and most well-traveled roads, are the ones you access most frequently. These are your essential needs, your daily habits, and your personality. The more you visit these spots, the bigger they become and the stronger the road, or pathway, becomes.
In order to train your brain, you need to focus on strengthening the right paths. When we view pornography, the pathway to that habit becomes stronger. Just thinking ”Don’t look at porn today,” may in fact have the opposite of the desired effect, as your brain is still using the “pornography” pathway, ignoring the “Don’t” all together.
For example, if I tell you not to think about a little girl with red hair and freckles eating a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone, it’s almost a certainty that you’re already creating that exact image in your mind. Just saying “don’t” is no assurance that your brain will cooperate. The mind responds much better to positive directions.
Try this instead: imagine the last time you ate ice cream. Think about what flavor it was, where you bought it, who you were with, and what you might have talking about at the time. By directing your brain in a specific direction, you are making it easier for your brain to form the types of pathways we want to strengthen.
The more you can practice directing your brain in a positive direction, the easier it will be in the future to rely on those wholesome, strong paths.
For more information about strengthening brain pathways, check out this helpful article on neural plasticity.
The challenge then, is choosing which pathways to strengthen instead.
This is where gratitude comes in.
Starting Your Gratitude Practice
Creating a daily habit of taking a few moments to focus on what we are grateful for is incredibly simple.
It does take commitment, but it does not have to be stressful or time consuming. The point of the exercise is, after all, to focus on what makes us happy.
Let’s start with fourteen days of guided practice.
The idea is to do this every day. It’s not a quick one week fix, but a habit that can last your whole life. Once you have completed the first two weeks, just keep going! You may use ideas from the prompts below, or feel free to come up with your own.
- Step 1: Gather your supplies. A notebook and a pen. That’s all you need. It can be a cheap spiral bound from the dollar store, a brightly colored notebook decorated with rainbow dolphins, or a classy moleskine journal. What matters is what you put into it. For this purpose, I would recommend using actual paper as opposed to digital forms of journaling. The physical act of writing something down further cements the positive thought in your mind. Using a pen and paper also prevents you from distractions that are bound to pop up on a device.
- Step 2: Set aside time. Any time of day works, just try to make it consistent. If you keep the notebook near your bed, the end of the day can be the perfect time to reflect on your day and remember the good. This also gives you a moment away from the distractions of phones and other electronic devices that may distract you or prevent healthy sleep.
- Step 3: Write down five things you are grateful for. You can make them as big and important or small and personal as you desire. We have provided you with a guide for the first fourteen days of your exercise. While these suggestions are here to help get your mind moving in the right direction, you are free to modify things to suit your day and your personality. Five is a good goal, but you may go beyond the first five. The longer you practice gratitude, the easier it will become to think of things you are thankful for. Write as many as you want!
Day 1: Starting with the basics
- Write five essential things you are grateful for. Things you could not live without. Be as specific as you can. If you list family members, write their names.
Day 2: Small joys
- Write five small things that make you happy. This could be any little thing from your favorite t-shirt, to your favorite smell. Focus on the little things that are not important, but still make you happy.
Day 3: Events
- Write five things that have happened to you in the last few weeks that have made you happy. Did you have a nice chat with a friend? Enjoy a walk with your dog? Complete an assignment at work? Write it down!
Day 4: Hilarious things
- Write five things always guaranteed to make you laugh. A favorite funny movie or comedian? Something funny your kids did when they were little? Or even your favorite Studio C sketch.
Day 5: People
- List five people who are important to you.
Day 6: Nature
- Take some time to think about the natural beauty around you. List five places or things found in nature (cloud formations, a favorite flower, etc.) that you find beautiful.
Day 7: Your favorites
- List 5 of your favorite things. Songs, movies, books, desserts, or anything else you love.
Day 8: Recognizing kindness in others
- Today, take some time to think about what others have done to help you in the past. They can be small gestures of kindness or big things that you are grateful for.
Day 9: Recognizing kindness in yourself
- This one may take a little introspection, but think about and list five things you have done recently to help someone else out.
Day 10: Knowledge
- Write five things that you are glad you have learned. Do you know a lot of facts about comic book characters? Are you well versed in coding languages? Have you been taught the best way to keep your car running smooth?
Day 11: Kind words
- List five examples of kind words. This can be either uplifting quotes that you love, or things people have said to you that just made your day.
Day 12: Your talents
- Write down what you’re good at!
Day 13: Best memories
- Write down five of your most treasured memories.
Day 14: Looking how far you’ve come
- Take a moment to think about your gratitude practice over the last two weeks. Read through your previous entries. Have you learned anything new? Noticed things you didn’t notice before? Write down five good things that have come from this exercise.
Days 15 and on: Keep it up!
Keep writing down what you are grateful for each day, and reap the benefits that come from cultivating a grateful mind!
The benefits of daily gratitude will come with patience and practice. Don’t get discouraged if you haven’t become a whole new person overnight. Remember that the good habit you are creating will take just as much time and effort as the bad habit it’s replacing. But keep going! You may run into times where it’s challenging coming up with something to write or you’ll accidentally skip a day. It’s okay, just pick up where you left off the next day.
We at Ever Accountable firmly believe in the incredible power that comes through recognizing all we have. There is a lot of good out there, now go out and find it!